Christmas On the Radio

 

With a relatively few Politically Correct exceptions, we Americans love Christmas. When we think about the season, most of us smile at the memories it conjures up. There’s the images of all the holiday trimmings, mistletoe & holly, Santa Claus and his Reindeer, snow, sleigh bells, all the colorful decorations, the Christmas Tree, the food and, of course, the family–with children everywhere with wonder, excitement and joy on their faces. Christmas also wouldn’t Christmas without the music.

Ask anyone who has been in radio and they will tell you about Christmas. I spent right at 30 Christmases while sliding through what I call my radio career. The holiday always followed the same pattern year after year. Ask anyone and they will tell you. Although the particular routine would vary from operation to operation, invariably it was all the same…only different at every station in the country. Christmas, for those of us in the business, usually fell into two general categories. Great anticipation and excitement or total dread.

Let me explain. Each year when it came time for Christmas, the radio station would prepare itself to, in effect, change its format from what it normally was—be it Rock, Pop, R&B or Country—to Christmas Music. Typically, it would start the day after Thanksgiving. Most people refer to it now as Black Friday. We didn’t call it that back in the day. Even then, it was the time for retailers to make those sales.

Retailers would be playing Christmas music in their stores incessantly all day, every day until Christmas Day. In radio, we would also do our part to support the retailers (considering that is where the bulk of our income was coming from) It was our way to support them and get our listeners to get into the holiday spirit. Starting the day after Thanksgiving we would play one Christmas song every hour or two hours just to ease into the holiday spirit.

Within a couple of days we would be playing at least one Christmas song every hour around the clock. At this point in the process we would be playing generic Christmas songs. We often called them Santa Claus songs. We were not yet playing any of the Christmas Carols. Just the fun up beat, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Sleigh Bells kinds of songs. Within the week, we were playing maybe three or four songs an hour. This would stay pretty much the rule until we got a week or so away from the actual holiday. Eventually we would be playing nothing but Christmas music 24/7.

One thing about Christmas music, some of it is really fine music and well done but think about it. There really wasn’t a great depth in the number of titles to choose from. Virtually every one of those songs had been recorded thousands of times by thousands of artists. The voice my change but the words don’t! There gets to be a mind-numbing repetitiveness. You just shake your head and just want the noise to stop. Even the most avid lover of the season would develop a vile feeling for certain songs. One of the songs I won’t listen to at all anymore, to this day, even though it might be a personal favorite of yours. If so I apologize.  I can’t stand “Blue Christmas” no matter who does it.  I can still see the album cover of Blue Christmas with 15 variations done by 15 different artists. It makes me want to scream like a little girl and wet my pants!

It’s true every year a few new songs would come out and people would love ‘em; some have become standard Christmas fair you hear every year. There was always a new novelty song that would come out and you’d get phone requests for it until you couldn’t count them anymore. You could count on getting those request just like clockwork—“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” was one and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is a more recent choice. That song actually goes back to the 40’s or 50’s. The list goes on.

For me, the song that drove me to distraction (and many of my other colleagues) was the Barking Dogs doing “Jingle Bells.” I HATE THAT SONG! It got to the point that one year, I took the record into the production studio, made a copy and came out two hours later with my own revision. My heavily edited version had an unknown person driving up in a car, getting out of the car walking across the gravel while the dogs were singing away, Arf, arf, arf……Arf, arf, arf…Then you hear the cocking of a gun and then you hear automatic gun fire. Next you hear the record speeding up and you hear the dogs squealing and yapping and running for their lives. After you hear about 30 seconds of this. It is totally silent. Then you hear the person walk over the gravel, get into the car and drive away. Then it closes with the last seven notes of the original song.  It was hilarious! I wish I could share it with you. I still have a recording of it somewhere.

It was a cathartic moment for me. Anyone who had to play that song as many times as I have will “get it.” They’ll understand why I did it. I think it saved my mind. Damn, that felt good!

Now before anyone goes off and gets all bent out of shape with me or wants to call PETA, understand, I do NOT condone violence of any animals, dogs, cats or otherwise (except maybe poisonous snakes).  I have no love or use for them.

My little work of production was really just my mini-protest of the song itself. I was shooting the RECORD not the dogs! By then, I had played the Barking Dogs hundreds, if not thousands, of times and was driven to exorcise it from my life. It was just a little foray into comedy. Was it in bad taste? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know but it sure made me feel good!

As for the rest of the season, we would begin to add the Christmas Carols the last few days before Christmas itself. As I recall, we would begin to play the Christmas Carols exclusively around 4pm in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and play them nonstop until about 6pm Christmas night. After that we would return to what we normally played. A wave of relief washed over the station. It would last for another 11 months or so months. Things got back to normal.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, what it means and what it brings as much as the next guy or lady. I’d miss it if we didn’t have it anymore. BUT I wouldn’t miss those awful damned dogs!  Perhaps now you can understand, even in a small way, what it’s like to spend Christmas on the radio.

Here is the version of the song I produced as my way of ridding myself of that awful song! Again, I do NOT condone the harming any animals, This is just a humorous attempt to get rid of the SONG not the dogs. Lighten up. It is a joke!     Merry Christmas, y’all.

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